Advance-fee lottery scam earned $40 million, judiciary says

Telephone scammers here took $40 million from the vulnerable and the aged in the United States through an advanced fee lottery scam.

That was disclosed Friday as the Poder Judicial confirmed the formal questioning of seven persons, five men and two women, who were detained in law enforcement action Thursday. The seven are suspected of being the leaders of a boiler room operation here that solicited fees from U.S. citizens for non-existent lottery winnings.

The Poder Judicial said that prosecutors were opening cases of fraud against the seven.

Costa Rica has been a hotbed of Internet and telephone fraud for years. The high profile arrests were of U.S. citizens working here and indicted by the U.S. government.

The eight raids Thursday were evidence that Costa Rican authorities are cracking down, too. At one time an
estimated 200 bilingual Costa Ricans and U.S. citizens worked in operations executing various scams. One group specialized in selling business opportunities, such as coffee vending machines. Those who fell for the telephone pitch sometimes were victims of individuals making fake recommendations and reporting false information about potential earnings.

Another group sold cut-rate computers but never delivered a single machine.

The advance-fee lottery scam that agents here acted against Thursday has been going on for years. Victims thought they were being called from inside the United States, thanks to voice-over-Internet protocol. The individuals in the phone rooms got names from solicitors who offered shoppers the chance to enter a lottery at various points in the United States. So the victims could easily believe they had won something.

Much of the money in these frauds came through Western Union.

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